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MRC scientists honoured by the Royal Society

19 July 2011

The Royal Society, the UK’s independent academy for science, has today announced the recipients of its 2011 Awards, Medals and Royal Medals, and 2011-2012 Prize Lectures. Six distinguished Medical Research Council (MRC) scientists have received honours: Sir Gregory Winter; Dr Robin Holliday; Professor Francesca Happé; Dr Tim Bliss; Dr Brad Amos; and Dr Sarah Teichmann.


Sir Gregory Winter, from the MRC’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), has been awarded a Royal Medal for his pioneering work in protein engineering and developing technologies to make therapeutic monoclonal antibodies (immune system proteins that fight infection), and his contributions to society as an inventor and entrepreneur. Sir Gregory was deputy director of the LMB from 2006 to June 2011 and works in the Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry Division. He joined the LMB as a PhD student in 1973, and was made a programme leader in 1981. His research helped in the development of antibody treatments for diseases such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, and he has founded three biotechnology companies, including Cambridge Antibody Technology, now part of AstraZeneca.


Dr Robin Holliday, a former head of the Division of Genetics at the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), has also been awarded a Royal Medal. He is recognised for his influential discoveries of the ‘Holliday junction’ molecular structure (formed whenever the breakage and rejoining of DNA occurs in chromosomes) and the function of DNA methylation (a process vital for normal development in humans, in which DNA is chemically modified). Dr Holliday moved to the NIMR in 1965, researching microbial genetics and subsequently the mechanism of biological ageing. He was appointed head of a new Division of Genetics in 1970 and made proposals which became of central importance to the field of epigenetics, the study of altering gene expression without changing the genetic code. He retired from research in 1997.


Professor Francesca Happé, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, has been awarded the Rosalind Franklin Award. Professor Happé is recognised for her scientific achievements and her work to promote women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine. Her research interests centre on autism and Asperger syndrome, and she has written a book on autism for non-specialist readers. She is a former winner of the Telegraph’s Young Science Writer award and has taken part in many television documentaries and educational programmes.


Dr Tim Bliss, formerly head of the Division of Neurophysiology at the NIMR, has been invited to deliver the Royal Society’s annual Croonian Lecture in 2012. Dr Bliss is a world renowned expert in the physiology of memory. He joined the staff of the NIMR in 1968, and published the first detailed account of long-term potentiation (LTP), one of the major cellular processes underlying learning and memory, in 1973. He became head of the Division of Neurophysiology in 1988, and head of the Neurosciences Group in 1996. He held these positions until his formal retirement in 2006, but he continues as a visiting worker.


Dr Brad Amos, Emeritus group leader from the LMB’s Structural Studies Division, has been invited to deliver the 2012 Leeuwenhoek Lecture. This is in recognition of his exceptional impact on the fields of cellular, developmental and neurobiology, as well as other branches of science, through his co-development of the laser scanning confocal microscope. Dr Amos joined the LMB in 1981 and it was here that he helped to develop confocal microscopy into a useful technique. He continues to work on microscope developments to improve the range and quality of biomedical images.


Dr Sarah Teichmann, also from the LMB’s Structural Studies Division, has been invited to deliver the 2012 Francis Crick Lecture in recognition of her achievements relating to decoding the principles of protein interactions. Dr Teichmann completed a PhD in computational genomics at the LMB. She then spent two years at University College London, returning to the LMB in 2001 as a programme leader. She has made seminal contributions to understanding how protein families recombine within multi-domain proteins and to the evolution and dynamics of transcriptional regulatory networks.



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